Magazine article The Christian Century

Unlikely Messenger. (Living by the Word)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Unlikely Messenger. (Living by the Word)

Article excerpt

Sunday, March 3

John 4:5-42

ONCE AGAIN, JESUS is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for critical encounter. This time he meets not Satan, but a most unlikely angel. In the heat of the day, a messenger of God joins him for a life-giving exchange.

Tired from his journey, Jesus sits down at Jacob's well, then realizes that he has no cup or bucket with which to draw water. The disciples have gone off to buy food and he is alone. But someone else is out in this desert heat, and she's carrying a bucket. She may be the last person on earth Jesus wants to encounter, because not only is she a woman, she is a divorced woman. A woman with a shady past. A Samaritan. By custom, Rabbi Jesus ought not even speak with her in public, let alone drink from her Samaritan bucket.

It is about noon, the sixth hour. There are no shadows, there is no protective cover, no nighttime leisure for theological exchange and reflection. There is only this woman, and she is insolent, defensive, strong and determined. What transpires between these two is nothing short of miraculous. These strangers, these enemies--whose worlds would ordinarily never connect--discover at the well that they need each other.

It's hard to imagine that this is a chance encounter. Apparently, Jesus had told the disciples to journey directly into enemy territory, when most Jews would have taken an extra nine hours or so to go around Samaria, which was unclean, enemy territory. Perhaps Jesus was intentionally seeking to break down barriers between people by making himself a bridge. He put himself in a place where he would have to encounter the people his people hated. And who hated them.

For the sake of healing, Jesus follows the lead of the Holy Spirit and makes himself vulnerable. He is tired and alone in the heat of the noonday sun with no water. It is not a metaphorical desert. Left alone here at high noon, he could die without water. But someone has joined him at the well--the Other, the Stranger, the Enemy. And she holds the cup that can quench his thirst.

We don't know why the disciples left Jesus alone in the desert. But the woman, whose name is never revealed, is out in the heat of noonday because she has been ostracized and shunned, and is on her own to provide for her most basic needs. No father, husband, brother or son is around to look after her. And there is no group of women to share her story, wipe her tears or help her to laugh.

Jesus needs to drink fresh water to live. The woman also needs a drink: she needs the fresh, living water of grace and truth only Jesus can provide to drink deep of healing and wholeness and a new life. …

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